Philippine Epic Poetry

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Even before the foreign invaders came to the Philippines, the Filipinos already had their own cultural traditions, folklore, mythologies and epics. There were substantial writings by early natives that Jesuit historian Fr. Pedro Chirino noted: "All of the islanders are much given to reading and writing. And there is hardly a man, much less a woman who did not read and write."

Epics are stories that are written in poetic form. They are usually described to display such tremendous vitality, color and imagination. Epic stories are tales about love and adventures of native heroes. The heroes' adventures are usually about how they become endowed with powers from the gods, battle monsters, triumph over formidable armies, ride the wind, travel on flying shields and protect the earliest communities of the islands.

Through the years, epic poems have grown and matured. Early historians like Padre Colin, Joaquin Martinez de Zuniga and Antonio Pigafetta have all attested to the existence of these epics. At the arrival of Don Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1565, it was reported, the natives presented him with a dramatic play.

During festivities and special occasions, epic poems and songs area performed. Most often, these epic poems (folk epics or ethno-epics) were titled after the names of the hero involved, except for some which carry traditional titles like the Kalinga Ulalim; the Sulod Hinilawod; the Maranao Darangan; or the Bicol Ibalon.

Old Time History, as stories about folk heroes of long ago are referred to, is used to study the lifestyle and beliefs of the people of that time. They were also referred to as lost, because they were soon forgotten by natives influenced heavily by Spanish and "western" colonization.

It has been said that during the early days of the Spanish intrusions, the priests destroyed all existing records of paganism, as well as all forms of writing and art work regarding the ancient Philippine folk heroes.

This has been proven to be false due to the fact that the early epic poetry is still known and used at present as reference in studies of the past especially the lifestyle, love and aspirations of the early Filipinos. This valuable inheritance from the past must be preserved for this can be used as a proof for national identity. It is from these that a Filipino can feel heroic, truly pulsating with splendor of a magnificent and authentic cultural force.

Being composed of thousands of islands, it is no wonder that the country is rich in culture and tradition with various influences in different parts of the nation. As a result, the Philippines has become a melting pot of nations and is a source of a rich variety of culture and stories. The following are some examples of the epic poetry found in the country.


Epic Poetries


The Hud-Hud epic poetry tells about the lives of native Ifugao heroes. The most notable epic hero is known as Aliguyon of the village of Gonhandan.

Aliguyon is a man endowed with supernatural powers and limitless energy. He can travel long distances without food and rest, and still arrive at his destination full of energy and without a trace of fatigue from the long journey. He is invincible during battle, as he can catch flying spears in mid flight while combating many men at the same time. He is obsessed with killing all of his father’s enemies, but it turns out that his father does not have any enemies at all. Instead, his father insists that he find a worthy woman to be his wife.

There is an account of Aliguyon’s duel with Pumbakhayon, a warrior of equal strength and agility from a village called Daligdigan. They fought for about a year and a half, rested and fought again for another year and a half. Then, the two reached a compromise and Aliguyon married Pumbakhayon’s sister Bugan. Likewise, Pumbakhayon married Aliguyon’s sister Aginaya.

Mindanao Epic Poetry

The people of Mindanao were rich in literature that existed only in their minds and memories. Recently, these epic poems were put into writing so as not to lose this valuable inheritance from their ancestors. They can also be used as a source of knowledge by the public and the new generation. The Mindanao people referred to their epic poetry as Darangan which are similar to those of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The Darangan also has stories about wars and abducted princesses, like the chronicle of the Trojan War.

The Darangan is one of the oldest and longest Philippine Epic poems. Several nights are needed to recite the twenty five beautiful chapters. The Darangan, sung in its original, possesses such a sustained beauty and dignity, it might be studied for its aesthetic values alone.

The Darangan tells of the sentimental and romantic adventures of noble warriors. One of these heroes is a warrior-prince named Bantugan. Prince Bantugan is the brother of the chieftain of a village called Bembaran. Bantugan is capable of rising from the dead and he owns a magic shield that is protected by divine spirits called "Tonongs".

One conquest of Prince Bantugan is when he sets off on a quest and fights his enemies with the use of his magic Kampilan (Native sword). He grows tired from the battle and falls into the water. While he is unconscious, a crocodile gets hold of him and delivers him to his enemies. When he gain consciousness, he escapes his captors in an oarless ship while battling his enemies.

Maranao Epic Poetry

The Maranao people have their own epic heroes who are popularly known in the Philippines. These heroes are Indarapatra and Sulayaman.

The Maranao epic talks about the tale of Emperor Indarapatra of the kingdom of Mantapuli. The emperor kills the monster that has been terrorizing his kingdom with the use of his spear that magically transforms into a boomerang.

Ilocano Epic Poetry

The Ilocanos had their own pre-Hispanic epic. One of its epic is the famous Biag ni Lam-Ang (Life of Lam-Ang.), which is believed to have been written by many authors. Like all the epic poetry found across the nation, Biag ni Lam-Ang was put into writing in 1640 by the father of Ilocano poetry, Pedro Bukaneg.

The story of Lam-Ang is about a hero who can talk immediately after birth. He picks his own name, chooses his own sponsor and requests his father’s presence. When he is barely 9 months old, Lam-Ang fought against the headhunters who killed his father. Once, as he is battling a sea monster, Lam-Ang is killed and eaten. He is reborn from the remains of his bones. He journeys to find the beautiful Ines Kannoyan whom he wants as his wife. He journeys accompanied by his pets, a rooster and a dog. Because of her beauty, Ines Kannoyan had many suitors lined up in her backyard. When Lam-Ang gets to her place, his rooster begins flapping his wings, which brings her house down. This amazes everyone, especially Ines. Then, Lam-Ang’s dog barks and the house stands up again as if nothing happened. Lam-Ang gives Ines two golden ships filled with treasures, and then he marries her.

Bicol Epic Poetry

From the Bicol province comes the Ibalon. The Ibalon narrates the story of the mystical origin of the first man and first woman known as Aslon and Ibalon. One story of the Ibalon is about Hiandong who was a great leader of warriors. His story speaks of his battles against a giant Cyclops for ten months, his defeat of the winged Tiburon, the fierce Sarimao, and the seductive serpent Oriol.

After defeating the monsters he builds his own village. His village prospered and soon, others invented the plough, harrow and other farming implements. In this epic, there is also an account of the flood story similar to that in the Biblical Genesis.

Visayan Epic Poetries

The Maragtas Chronicles of Panay is a history of rulers of the island from the time of the Ten Malay Datus (rulers) that settled from Borneo.

The "Legend of the Ten Datus (chieftains)" is a story about the forefathers of the Filipinos as well as the ten Bornean chieftains who escapes the cruel regime of Sultan Makatunaw. Datu Puti along with other nine chieftains plans to leave Borneo. They travel the ocean by riding their native boats as they ventured into the night. At first, the ten rulers and their families are afraid that they may not reach their destination and get stranded in the middle of the sea. But after quite some time, they are able to reach the islands of Panay where they befriend the natives called Aetas.

The Aetas are quite friendly and decide to sell a piece of their land to the ten chieftains. The chieftains give the Aetas leader, Marikudo, a golden Salakot (native head piece). After this, the chieftains and Aetas live in peace and harmony.

Bagobo Epic Poetry

The Bagobo tribe has an epic hero named Tuwaang or Tatuwang. He was a brave and strong warrior with various powers.

The story of Tuwaang speaks of his journey to the land of Pinanggayungan while traveling by riding a lightning bolt. Here he meets the maiden of the Buhong Sky who is running way from Pangumanon, a very strong giant. Tuwaang and the giant fight but it is an even match. The giant cheats by using his magical powers and threw flaming bars at Tuwaang. The bars entwine around Tuwaang, so that the giant can get the upper hand. Tuwaang is able to remove the bars and uses his own powers to call the wind to fan the flames and let the giant be engulfed by his own flames.

Other Epic Poetries

  • The Sud-Sud of the Tagbanuas from Palawan
  • The Dagoy, also from Palawan
  • The Parang Sabil of the Sulu Muslims
  • The Ulagingen and Selch of the Manobos
  • The Panglima Munggona and Jikiri of the Tausugs
  • The Ullalim and Gisumbi of the Kalinga
  • Bidian of the Ibaloys
  • The Panay-Bukidnon's Labaw Donggon
  • Agyu of Bukidnon.
  • The Diawot of the Mansaka

External links

Portions of this article also appears in * The Ranao Blog



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